Today’s reflection has been offered by Shannon O’Donnell, who has generously contributed to our blog before. Shannon is a jail chaplain and lives in Tacoma, Washington. Today’s reflection was not written with a particular day in mind, but it seems most fitting for Palm Sunday.
We’re sitting at a table in a hallway at the jail. It is mid-morning and there is a flurry of activity. One group of offenders is heads to the multi-purpose room for class while another lines up to cross the skybridge for court. Officers push carts filled with lunch sacks. Somehow laundry exchange happens. Ed is wearing the red pants and shirt he was issued when he was booked into jail three months ago. His orange plastic flipflops have seen many other feet over the years.
Ed ignores the noise and movement. He hunches over the table. He’s 40. “I’m looking at prison. Again.” He sighs. “I’m getting tired of this.” No wonder. It will be his fifth time. He has struggled with drugs, homelessness, mental health issues. His life is an epic case of Whack-a-Mole. He gets one thing under control only to lose something else. Coming to jail seems the only stable piece of his life.
“I started reading the bible again.”
I nod. I’ve heard this before. My attention drifts and I silently recite the list: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Will he get bogged down in Leviticus? Make it through Numbers?
“I’ve been reading the gospels this time.” The gospels? This is news. I snap back to attention.
“What’s different this time?” I want to know.
“I started watching Jesus. Where he went. Who he talked to. What he did. At first, I tried to imagine being a part of the crowd.” He laughs. “I couldn’t see anything! People kept getting in the way!” He stares at his hands. “Seemed like every time I finally could see, whatever happened was already over. Jesus was moving on.”
“It was, but one day, I realized something. I am the crowd. I don’t have just one thing wrong with me. There are a lot of things that need healing. I am the crowd. And no matter where Jesus goes, there’s a crowd. He never turns away from them. So I watch Jesus as he meets up with people and I stay put. I stay in the crowd. He’s there. He sees me. He will heal me.”
We talk for a while longer, exploring the mystery of being the crowd. Then he says, “Do you have anyone for me to pray for? Someone who is having a hard time?” I do. I write down the names of a couple of people: someone newly diagnosed with cancer, a man who lost both a leg and an arm in an accident. He holds the slip of paper then folds it carefully and puts it in his pocket. We pray together, all the noise of the hallway far away from us. When he stands, he smiles. “Praying for the crowd. I can do that.”
(Please join us for Holy Week if you are in the Clifton Park area, or anywhere nearby. You will find the times of our various liturgies and services at our website. We hope you will join us at the Roman Catholic Community of St. Edward the Confessor. When we say all are welcome, it is not a cliched phrase, but an expression of eucharistic community centered in Christ.)